Two great rivers, the Mississippi and the Missouri, have had a great influence on the development of Missouri. The Mississippi tied the region to the South, particularly to New Orleans. The Missouri crosses the state from west to east and enters the Mississippi near St. Louis; the portion of its valley between St. Louis and what became Kansas City was the greatest avenue of early-19th-cent. advance westward across the continent.
The region N of the Missouri River is largely prairie land, where, as on the Iowa plains to the north, corn and livestock are raised. Most of the region S of the Missouri is covered by foothills and by the plateau of the Ozark Mts., a region of hill country populated by a relatively isolated, self-reliant people. The rough, heavily forested eastern section of the Ozarks extends into the less hilly farming plateau in the west and encompasses the irregular, twisting Lake of the Ozarks to the northwest.
In SW Missouri is a long, narrow area of flat land, part of the Great Plains, where livestock and forage crops are raised. In the southeast, in the "Bootheel" region below Cape Girardeau, are the cotton fields of the Mississippi floodplain, a once-swampy area improved after the establishment of a drainage system in 1805. The state's rivers have periodically flooded and eroded fertile farmlands. In 1993 flooding cost 31 lives and caused an estimated $3 billion in damage, much of it to agriculture. The Missouri River basin project represents a major flood control effort.
The capital is Jefferson City, and the largest cities are Kansas City, Saint Louis, Springfield, and Independence. Places of interest include the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, in St. Louis; George Washington Carver National Monument, in Diamond; Wilson's Creek National Battlefield, near Springfield; the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, in Kansas City; the Harry S. Truman Memorial Library, in Independence; and the Museum of the American Indian, in St. Joseph. A 185-mi (300 km) bicycle trail stretches from near St. Louis to Sedalia.